Dealing with burnout? 5 simple ways to help you cope.

Are you suffering from exhaustion? If you feel chronically stressed and exhausted, the answer might be yes.

Burnout, while not an official medical diagnosis, is a syndrome resulting from chronic work stress that has not been successfully managed, Natalie Christine Dattilo, a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Yahoo Life. Dattilo says the three main characteristics of burnout are feelings of exhaustion, feelings of cynicism about work, and reduced professional effectiveness. More and more people are reporting symptoms of burnout, with a 2021 American Psychological Association survey finding that nearly 3 in 5 employees said they experienced negative effects of job stress, including emotional exhaustion and lack of motivation.

We know that burnout contributes to negative feelings about work, but it also puts vulnerable people at greater risk for anxiety disorders, substance use, insomnia and clinical depression, says Dattilo.

Seeking professional help, whether through your primary care doctor or a mental health professional, is key when you’re struggling. However, there are some simple things you can do to make sure you don’t experience burnout in the first place. Here’s what the experts recommend.

Schedule time for yourself

Dattilo tells patients that managing burnout is similar to managing a budget, only with energy instead of money. When the demands on us exceed our resources for too long, our energy bank account overflows, he explains.

While it’s not fun to find yourself overwhelmed, we can manage our energy in a similar way to how we manage our finances, Mason Farmani, a life coach in Palm Beach, Fla., tells Yahoo Life. Allocating your time into different blocks to separate work, relaxation and personal activities can create a framework that facilitates productivity and safeguards against burnout, he says.

Just as you schedule meetings into your work calendar, setting aside specific time for yourself can make it less likely that you’ll neglect crucial aspects of your life, such as self-care and leisure, Farmani explains. Not only should you write down your vacation days on your calendar (and make sure you take them all, of course), you can also try scheduling things like relaxing on the couch or going for a walk with a friend.

Try this breathing technique

First, some science around burnout: Arianna Galligher, director of the Gabbe Office of Wellness and the Stress, Trauma, and Resilience (STAR) program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life that when we face a stressful situation or traumatic situation, our body and mind go into fight or flight mode, also known as the activation of the body’s sympathetic nervous system, which helps us respond quickly and decided in a crisis.

Galligher says that while fight-or-flight is useful in short bursts in response to short-term stressors, human beings are not meant to exist in this state for long. But sometimes, she explains, a build-up of stress or an unexpected situation can push us over the edge, and it can be difficult to calm down and settle into the more relaxed rest and digest mode associated with our parasympathetic nervous system.

One way to get back to rest and digest is through a simple breathing technique, Galligher says. He points to the growing body of evidence suggesting that deep (diaphragmatic) breathing techniques provide a key mechanism for reducing stress and activating our parasympathetic nervous system so we can relax.

Here’s how to practice it:

  • Focus on inhaling deeply through your nose and slowly exhaling through your mouth. Focus your mind on your breathing.

  • Place your hands on your belly and notice your hands moving up and down with inhalations and exhalations as you breathe from your diaphragm.

  • Begin by exhaling any breath you have been holding due to tension.

  • Then inhale slowly and deeply for four seconds.

  • Hold this breath for seven seconds.

  • Exhale slowly and fully for eight seconds.

  • Continue this pattern for five to 10 breath cycles.

Incorporate exercise into your day

Farmani says exercise can be an important part of combating stress and burnout. Exercise has been linked to lower rates of anxiety and depression, and a recent study found that some workouts can be just as beneficial for mental health as therapy or medication.

Farmani suggests setting specific goals, such as committing to at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day, and remembering that exercise doesn’t have to mean joining a gym. Try taking a short walk during your lunch break or making calls instead of sitting at your desk.

Try a gratitude practice

Ishan Shivanand, mental health researcher and founder of Yoga of Immortals, says incorporating a gratitude practice into your daily life can help you avoid burnout. Studies have shown that practicing gratitude can have great mental health benefits. It works by forcing you to slow down and reflect, which can be especially beneficial when you’re feeling stressed and overworked. Your focus will slowly shift from stress to serenity by expressing gratitude, Shivanand tells Yahoo Life.

One way to incorporate a gratitude practice into your life is by starting a daily gratitude journal, either when you wake up in the morning or before you go to bed. You don’t have to write much – simply jotting down a few things you’re grateful for, whether it’s your spouse’s support or a good cup of coffee, allows you to reflect on the positive elements in your life.

Check with your doctor

Burnout is often a mental health issue, but sometimes what we experience as burnout can also have a physiological factor, explains Dr. David Spiegel, a psychiatrist at Stanford Medicine. If you feel exhausted all the time, a doctor can assess whether there is something physical, such as a thyroid problem, that may be causing the fatigue.

A doctor can also assess whether things like your diet or sleep schedule could be leading to burnout and create a plan to help you feel better. You have to take care of your body before you can take care of what you have to do, Spiegel tells Yahoo Life.

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